Harmony Korine has tackled a variety of controversial subjects since his early films, Gummo and Kids, but with Spring Breakers, Korine takes a seemingly innocent topic–having a good time on your spring break–and transforms it into one of the most delightfully debauched movies in recent release. Following the extreme lengths that four girls are willing to go to have a good time, Spring Breakers is Korine’s most commercially subversive film to date. Faith (Selena Gomez), Cotty (Rachel Korine, yes, Harmony’s much younger wife), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) are four friends with varying degrees of morality—Faith of course being the most prone to conventional moral behavior.
When the quartet realizes they aren’t going to make it to Florida on the paltry 325 dollars they’ve managed to save, Candy, Cotty and Brit scheme to rob a restaurant (the kind that would serve fried chicken) and take their earnings to have the spring break of their dreams. As Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” plays (just one in a series of brilliant musical backgrounds for a particular scene), Cotty watches Brit and Candy carry off the plan without a hitch. When Faith learns of how they acquired the money, she pushes aside her feelings of guilt to get out of a town she describes as follows: “The grass isn’t even green. It’s brown.” With such dismal surroundings, the sharp contrast they encounter in Florida is extremely welcome.
Revisiting the same montage of bodies and tits set to the sound of Skrillex during the opening sequence of the film, the girls finally get to experience firsthand something beyond their own humdrum college existence. At a concert on the beach that could have just as easily been extracted from early 00s MTV Spring Break footage, the girls have their first encounter with Alien (James Franco)—real name Al—a white rapper with long, flowing corn rows and a gold grill on his teeth. As balloons in the shape of aliens float around the stage in front of Alien, the story begins its shift into an even more surreal plotline.
In spite of Faith being extremely religious, she seems to be the one most taken with the atmosphere of spring break, asserting to Candy and Brit that she never wants to go back home. Peppered with shots of the foursome riding around town on scooters, flipping people off that drive by and hanging around various beach and pool parties, there is a fragmented and disorderly element that pervades most of Spring Breakers—mirroring the lives and actions of the four friends. The fun comes to a grinding halt when the girls are arrested at a house party for narcotic use (coke, obviously) and they’re taken to the county jail to wait out their sentence.
At the court hearing, Alien happens to be sitting among the crowd—awaiting the verdict for two of his own lackeys—and decides to bail them out. Faith is the most hesitant to accept his random act of kindness as being without a motive. Regardless, she opts to get in his car with the rest of her friends knowing that their options are limited now that their cash has run out. From there, Alien takes them to the side of spring break you don’t usually see—where the drug lords live. Immediately repulsed by her surroundings, Faith is the first to jump the metaphorical ship, even in the face of Alien’s argument that she’ll be more miserable back at home.
With one “chickie” (a term Alien uses in a creepy free-form song he plays on his piano) down and three left, Alien enlists their help to steal and generally cause destruction in their wake. And, just as Korine did in Gummo (the weightlifting scene in which Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” plays), he uses a dated iconic song in an insurrectionary manner to convey a larger message. In the case of Spring Breakers, an acapella version of “Baby One More Time” outside of a convenience store symbolizes the certain decay of our culture and how emulation of what we see on the various screens around us ultimately influences us—whether consciously or subconsciously. Right before Cotty, Brit and Candy commit their first robbery, Cotty says, “Just pretend you’re in a movie or a video game.” That line alone says so much about where we are as a society. Though, admittedly, it’s difficult for anyone to deny a love of Britney.
Using yet another Britney Spears song—the lesser appreciated ballad “Everytime”—as the three girls cause mayhem throughout the underworld of St. Petersburg, Korine continues to display his knack for fucking with his viewers’ heads. And that is the true brilliance of Korine that often makes him so despised by his detractors: The fact that he can simultaneously disgust while provoking meaningful thought. As for the conclusion of Spring Breakers, well, let’s just say that by the time you’ve come this far, nothing will surprise you anymore and you, too, will be muttering “Spring break 4eva” to yourself.